BWW Review: New Musical A WALL APART at the Grand is Passionate
A WALL APART is a heart-pounding original rock musical about the Berlin Wall that fills the room with palpable passion and a soaring score by Lord Graham Russell of Air Supply. The show was first introduced at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, and the same production team transferred to the Grand Theatre for its fully staged world premiere.
A WALL APART (music by Graham Russell, book by Sam Goldstein and Craig Clyde with collaboration from Keith Andrews) is the saga of one family divided by the Berlin Wall. It tells the story of three brothers: the oldest, Hans is a committed member of the border patrol; the youngest, Mickey is a singer enamored by Western music and ideals; and Kurt is caught somewhere in between.
The brothers are played with vigor and depth by Darren Ritchie as Hans, Michael Scott Johnson as Kurt, and Holden Smith as Mickey. They are the life force of the piece and are each magnetic in their own way.
Ritchie originated leading roles on Broadway in Frank Wildhorn's DRACULA and WONDERLAND, and it is thrilling to see his masterful performance in such an intimate setting.
The direction and choreography by Keith Andrews is absolutely outstanding. It is intimate and artistic, perfectly capturing the spirit of the characters and setting and adeptly balancing the abstract and the concrete. The scenic and lighting design by David Goldstein create a stunning immersive environment that provides just the right framework for the physical movement while also encapsulating and emulating the spirit of it. The period costume and prop design by Shannon McCullock is also a worthy contribution to the production.
A WALL APART's music is phenomenal, and its story set against the backdrop of the Berlin Wall is intriguing, emotional, and even brilliant. Together they form a show that is truly enjoyable to experience.
However, as a show still in development, there are still some adjustments that could make it even better. Overall, the score is stronger in the first act (the first three songs are probably the most memorable), and the book is stronger in the second act. The audience develops a connection with the characters right away, but it is diminished slightly by intermission, when it should be at its peak. If the relationship between Kurt and Esther was further developed in the first act, the audience would have a stronger connection to them as a couple. Some of their motivations and reactions feel disjointed and could use further transitioning within the scenes through dialogue.
In general, the score feels complete, but "Do You Mind if I Adore You," sung by Mickey and Suzanne, is one song that feels unnecessary, especially when immediately followed by another love song for Kurt and Esther that is more important to the story. Perhaps it could work better if significantly shortened, but it is one of a few songs, including "Forlorn Fraulein" and "We're Having a Baby" that feel very repetitive due to repeating lyrics and phrases. Shortening these songs would provide time for more dialogue in Act I, and it could also make room for a possible additional solo for Hans earlier in the show. His character is currently underutilized, and a song in which he tells his backstory would perhaps feel less forced than the explanation currently given to the audience via a conversation with Suzanne.
These are, of course, just minor issues in the grand scheme of things. By the end of the show, the audience's connection with the characters is deep, and they truly care about the family and their plight. It is a moving, engaging musical with so much to appreciate, and it deserves a bigger spotlight on or off Broadway.
This year, Utah is becoming a veritable breeding ground for the development of new musicals with big aspirations. In addition to A WALL APART is May's staged concert presentation of GOLD MOUNTAIN starring Ali Ewoldt and the upcoming pre-Broadway tryouts of FLY MORE THAN YOU FALL at Utah Valley University and CAGNEY starring Robert Creighton at Pioneer Theatre Company, both in September. It is satisfying to see and hopefully a pattern that will continue as Broadway producers see the depth of talent and appreciation of theatre in Utah.